Opportunities for wild, rumbustious old-style newspaper wars are limited in an era dominated by one-paper cities and corporatised journalism. But Melbourne could be about to see one unfold with yesterday’s appointments of a new guard to run the Herald Sun, the city’s dominant newspaper.
As reported in Crikey last month, Bruce Guthrie will take over as the paper’s editor-in-chief and the man he succeeds, Peter Blunden, will take over as the paper’s managing director later this year. Guthrie is a highly respected former editor of The Age, and Blunden is one of the toughest street-fighters in the media business – a lethal combination which could spell big trouble for the other daily newspaper in town, the increasingly directionless and morale-depleted Age.
Guthrie’s appointment will enthrall the majority of The Age staff, especially those yearning for a move to an editorially professional working environment (ie most of the journalists). He will be able to pick off the best of the Age journalists with a phone call or two – and in many cases the phone calls will be initiated by the hacks themselves.
But it’s the appointment of Blunden to spearhead the business end of the war that should be of much greater concern to The Age. In concert with what is likely to be Guthrie’s editorial blitzkrieg on its broadsheet competitor, Blunden’s take-no-prisoners management style could shake the The Age to its very core.
As newspapers fight for their relevance in a new media world, and as The Age watches helplessly as its classified advertising – and profitability — ekes away to internet rivals like Seek and realestate.com.au, a Guthrie-Blunden pincer movement against Fairfax’s strategic southern flank is not a prospect the company’s “heavyweights” will savour. That’s if they notice.